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Friday, April 29, 2011

Gems from Beervana: Block 15 Berliner Weisse and Oakshire Baltic Porter

This blog is available on the world wide intertubes. Not many of citizens of that wide world actually read it, but they could. Therefore, when I write about beers available only to a tiny handful of people in a tiny sliver of that wide world, I feel a twinge of regret--not just that you won't be familiar with these beers or care about them, but that you can't taste them yourselves. Consider this my open invitation to all: you must come--the beer here really is all that. Cases in point:

1. Block 15 Berliner Weisse
Block 15 is a little brewpub in Corvallis, a little town with a little Pac 10 school (with a wicked good baseball team). Yet brewer Nick Arzner is committed to making some of the most interesting and most authentic beers you'll find anywhere on the blue marble. (If you buy Best of Beervana, there's some chance you'll see his name in the book-only material. Just sayin.) Berliner Weisse, an exceedingly rare style even more rarely brewed to style, is an example. Nick has a detailed description of Berliner Weisses, how it is often brewed (aka the cheater's methods), and the way he brewed his. I strongly recommend you go have a look, even if you won't be able to try this beer.

The truth is, this beer appears so rarely that I have only a couple other examples to which to compare it. (I did shoot an email to someone who knows more than I about German brewing, and reading Nick's description, gave a Teutonic nod of approval.) The style is designed to quench thirst in the manner of a crisp lemonade--it should be tart, light, and crisp. And lemonade is exactly what Nick's beer evoked. It's a milky white in the glass and has a nose of wheat, lemon, and yogurt. It is a tart beer and crisp, but not in any way acetic or aggressive. The wheat comes through surprisingly well, and there's a gentle citric quality which may or may not be lemony--but my brain went to lemonade and so it seemed so. A perfectly refreshing summer beer.

2. Oakshire Axe of Perun Baltic Porter
It seems that brewer Matt Van Wyk produces more single-batch beers than just about anyone in the state. I read about them on his blog and then look around--but mostly they're gone before I have a chance to sample them. I thought Axe of Perun was a goner, but it was pouring at the Grain and Gristle, where I found B15 Berliner Weisse. What luck.

Baltic Porters are mostly not brewed to style in the US. Generally they're over-roasty and brewed with an ale strain. The result is stout--one of my favorite styles, but a beer readily available in most pubs in the city. A good Baltic Porter is a rare thing, bringing into harmony elements that don't necessarily seem synchronous: a hearty but gentle roast note, a clean, lager smoothness, alcohol warmth, and an ester-free vinous note. Some have a suggestion of sour to them, as in rye malt. They are at once rich and intense yet eminently approachable. You get complexity, but you don't have to pay for it. Matt nailed the style with Perun the Axe. Put that in a line-up with some nice Polish and Baltic Baltics and it would seem like a twin brother. Easily the best American Baltic porter I've encountered.

The Grain and Gristle was a real treat, too, but I'll do a review of it later on.


  1. There should not be Brett in a Berliner Weisse. According to both Eric Warner (German Wheat Beer), it's six parts yeast (a top fermenting German strain not a weizen, so an Alt or Kolsch yeast) and 1 part Lactobacillus Delbruckii (a very specific lacto strain).

    Also according to Warner, the first documented evidence of the style was in 1680, and it was not barrel aged, but stored in clay bottles buried in the sandy floor of a beer cellar.

    It would most certainly not have included fruit in the secondary. If they did use a barrel, it would have been pitched, and definitely would not have been a used, charred wine barrel.

    Their "Berliner Weisse" might be a good beer, I can't comment on that. But it can't in any reasonable sense be called a Berliner Weisse.

  2. Last July, Dogfish Head - Festina Peche BerlinerWeiße was available at my Salem local. I hope for a repeat this summer. Of course, Calagione pushed the ABV beyond the standard to 4.5%.

    Last December, Heater Allen produced Sandy Paws [2010] Baltic Porter Lager. It was exceptional. I was told it was produced in a small quantity because it tied up the lager tank(s).

  3. Being lucky enough to live in Corvallis, I've been enjoying their Berliner Weisse a lot over the last couple of weeks since it went on tap.

    I've only had a Berliner weisse a couple of times when I was in Berlin, and it was a long time ago, but I remember it being a really tart refreshing summer beverage. Which is exactly what Block 15's is. The only thing I think can knock it for is the fact that it is cloudy and I remembered it being pretty clean and filtered looking when I had it. But otherwise, it's a really great beer and I'm glad they have a small beer on tap since for a while it seemed like all they had was beers above 7%.